While the Raptors are only nine days away from their opening night tilt against the Indiana Pacers, their second-to-last preseason outing demonstrated that there is still plenty left to iron out before the regular season kicks off.
Despite Dwane Casey playing a sort of regular season-esque rotation, with nearly 30 minutes a piece for his five starters, the guys out on the court oftentimes looked totally out of sync with each other, especially during an uninspiring first half. There were turnovers galore in this game, 18 in all for the Raptors, and despite a second-half rally that secured a nine-point victory over the Bucks, the team was full of miscues all night long.
The fact of the matter is that this Raptors team is going to face bouts where they simply have trouble executing their offensive stuff. Despite having two standout playmakers in Kyle Lowry and Jose Calderon (who each had six assists on the night), the team as a whole lacks the kind of offensive firepower that can simply assert its will night after night. Casey made a point of getting the ball into the hands of DeMar DeRozan and Andrea Bargnani all game long, with the two of them getting up a combined 31 shots (or 40% of the team's total attempts), but the effort to do so stagnated much of the game's flow and kept Lowry from asserting himself offensively until the dying minutes of the game.
While Casey has said repeatedly that the club's offense revolves around DeRozan and Bargnani, Lowry simply needs to be allowed to play much more aggressively to prevent the slow starts that have plagued this club all through preseason. Lowry is really the only Raptor that can consistently break his opponents down off of the dribble and that weapon has yet to be utilized to its fullest early in games. Far more often during Lowry's three starts has he be asked to play the setup man for three quarters before having a shot to close out the game as the team's primary scoring option. While it's important to make sure that DeRozan and Bargnani are established early, right now the offensive setup is too mechanical and predictable, and Milwaukee was easily able to read what Toronto wanted to do early and had they been a better defensive team they would have been able to snuff out much of the offensive battle plan in the opening minutes of the contest.
Of course, one must concede that it will take more than three preseason games for Lowry to fully enmesh himself with Toronto's starters, and it will likewise take more time before Casey gets comfortable utilizing the full array of Lowry's skills. It wasn't like Lowry wasn't able to impact the game; he still managed to hand out those aforementioned assists while also grabbing 5 boards and holding Brandon Jennings to a 3-for-15 shooting night. He also still dropped 15 points, although ten of those points came in the fourth quarter and four came when the Bucks started intentionally fouling at the end of the game. Still, for someone as offensively talented as Lowry, he needs to be allowed to impact the scoring column much earlier in the game to keep the Raptors from stagnating like the have been in the first quarter.
In terms of the guys that Lowry was meant to get on track, both DeRozan and Bargnani had solid offensive outings. Bargnani finally had a decent shooting night, going for 17 points on 7-for-15 shooting, including 3-of-6 from behind the arc, and DeRozan managed a strong 21 points, seven of which came at the free throw line. DeRozan was particularly aggressive at posting up the smaller Monta Ellis, but he was also routinely abused by Ellis at the other end as Ellis lit DeRozan up for 26 points. DeRozan remains the weakest link in Toronto's starting five at the defensive end and he simply has to do a better job of staying with his man or his offensive contributions are going to be completely negated by what he gives up to opposing wings.
Someone who has nothing to be ashamed of on defense, though, is rookie Jonas Valanciunas, who recorded four blocks and only two fouls, recovering nicely from his five foul outing against New York last Friday. Not to be overlooked were Valanciunas' contributions at the offensive end, as he got himself to the line ten times (tying DeRozan for a team high) and made eight of his free throws.
While four of Toronto's starters had pretty solid games, the fifth is still searching for some consistency this preseason. While Landry Fields snatched seven rebounds against Milwaukee and played tight defense against Tobias Harris, he made some costly miscues fouling guys late in the shot clock and was the only Raptor starter not to score in double-digits on the night. Fields is a rhythm player and one presumes that as the team begins to find its rhythm his contributions will be more apparent, but right now he looks out of sync and Casey actually kept him on the bench at the end of the game (a first this preseason) in favor of Alan Anderson, who wasn't exactly making league history himself with his play Monday night. No doubt that Fields will be on the court at the end of tight games most nights this season, but it would be a lot easier to put that in ink if he looked more comfortable out there with his new teammates. We're far, far away from sounding any alarm bells, but it'll something to watch early in the season. The Raptors have a history of opening the season intending to start one guy at small forward and quickly replacing him (Joey Graham, Morris Peterson, Jason Kapono, Jamario Moon, Linas Kleiza, Rasual Butler), and given their investment in Fields the club has to be hoping that he isn't the next in line for a demotion.
The Raptors will travel to Memphis on Friday to close out their preseason schedule before getting ready to start the season against Indiana on Halloween. The regular season is right around the corner, so the Raps had better start tightening things up before the games start to count for something beginning next week.